Theory and Theology in George Herbert's Poetry: Divinitie, and Poesie, Met

By Elizabeth Clarke | Go to book overview

5
The Sanctification of Poetry

Herbert succeeded in rescuing The Hundred and Ten Considerations for publication, but no amount of his corrective notes could make Valdés' position on the Scripture orthodox. For Valdés, and increasingly for the more extreme sectarians in the seventeenth century, engagement with the written text of the Bible is no longer the characteristic of the true Christian. By this time it was no longer sufficient to give assent to the right doctrines, to quote Scripture in support of belief, or to avoid unorthodox rhetoric (as Melanchthon had believed).1 The repetition of words in the public domain such as Scripture or the creeds were not seen as particularly useful signs in the endeavour to distinguish the elect from the damned, or as Valdés describes the categories, the 'true Saints' from 'the saints of the world'. Geoffrey Nuttall describes the turning point in the seventeenth century thus:

Hitherto, God's Word in Scripture has been treated as the criterion by which to test faith and experience. Now, the Holy Spirit is introduced as the touchstone by which all else is to be tried, including the Bible itself.2

It is important to Valdés that Scripture cannot be understood without the Spirit of God, even (and especially) by the learned: inspiration of the Spirit is essential for intelligent engagement with the sacred text. In emphasizing the precedence of revelation over reason Valdés is both democratizing salvation and at the same time creating an unassailable elite. Not even the basic minimum of intellect is now needed to appropriate the content of salvation: however, salvation is entirely limited to those enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Valdés is at pains to stress that the truly soteriological 'text', which is the inner and non-verbal language of God, is not accessible to any but the true saints: 'they only understand this

____________________
1
Philip Melanchthon, Liber Rhetorices Libri Duo, tr. and ed. J. M. Lafontaine ( Univ. of Michigan Ph. D. diss, 1968), 226.
2
G. F. Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience, new edn. ( Chicago, 1992), 28.

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